Living with flooding
Local authorities in coastal counties are counting the cost of recent storms with a view to securing financial aid from the Government – and perhaps even the EU’s Solidarity Fund – to repair badly damaged roads, piers, promenades and sea defences. Based on reports from the regions, the Cabinet is to be briefed on the extent and cost of the devastation caused by storm surges from the raging seas around us. It is clear, however, that the financial burden of coping with the consequences will greatly exceed the €45 million allocated by the Office of Public Works (OPW) for flood defences this year; already, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howln has pledged to look at setting up a a special fund for councils in the hardest-hit areas.
There have been repeated calls to provide more funding for flood defences, including the renewal of rock armouring to reduce the impact of surges. But it is difficult to imagine that any such defensive structures would have made a dent in the huge waves that washed over the promenades in Lahinch, Co Clare, or Tramore, Co Waterford, scattering debris everywhere. Low-lying cities such as Cork are well-used to flooding, but Galway and Belfast were also badly affected in recent weeks, leading to demands for more permanent protection such as sea walls or barriers to protect vulnerable areas where householders are increasingly at risk of their homes becoming uninsurable.
With severe winter storms likely to become more frequent as a result of climate change, the resources required to deliver such protection would be enormous; for example, the flood defence works being carried out by the OPW in Skibbereen, Co Cork – to protect 179 homes and 131 commercial premises – are estimated to cost €12.8 million. Large amounts of public money have already been spent on flood defences in Clonmel, Fermoy and Kilkenny, with the declared aim of giving these flood-prone urban areas “200-year flood event protection” – an optimistic, perhaps even fatuous, assumption where the weather has become increasingly unpredictable and almost certainly even more so as time moves on.
The 2011 National Preliminary Flood Risk Assessment which is required by the EU floods directive – has identified all of the areas where flooding risks are potentially significant. This is due to be followed by the publication in 2015 of flood risk management plans setting out a long-term strategy to “reduce and manage the flood risk”. However, as the 2004 Flood Policy Review Group report conceded, “there is an increasing realisation that flooding is a natural phenomenon and that we must learn to live with flood events [and] move away from engineering works that defend against floods to management of the flood risk and living with floods”.